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3 Ways Prohibitionists Are Fighting Legalization in Mass.—And Why They’re Wrong

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After three top Massachusetts officials —the governor, attorney general and mayor of Boston— penned an op-ed arguing against marijuana legalization in March, industry associations were quick to follow suit, releasing statements expressing their opposition to the ballot initiative voters will decide in November.

The  Massachusetts Medical Association, Massachusetts Hospital Association, Massachusetts Superintendents Association of School Superintendents and Associated Industries of Massachusetts have all jumped on the anti-weed bandwagon, recycling the same prohibitionist jargon debunked time-and-time again. Groups’ statements voicing their opposition to the legalization initiative are heavy on concerns around health and children, but their rhetoric is light on evidence.

The Medical Argument

Two major hospital and medical associations in Massachusetts are throwing their weight around legalization by utilizing a public health frame. Earlier this month, Lynn Nicholas, President & CEO of Massachusetts Hospital Association, emphasized the health community’s stake in marijuana policy.

“Massachusetts hospitals have always been at the forefront of promoting public health,” she said. “Based on the clear evidence and concern for our patients and our communities, the hospital answer to whether recreational marijuana use should be legalized in Massachusetts is a resounding ‘no.’”

The Massachusetts Medical Association has been against marijuana legalization since 1997 and is sticking to that position in 2016,

“The Medical Society believes that the overall negative health consequences of marijuana use outweigh arguments supporting legalization, and has concern regarding the strain that legalization could place on the health care system,” the MMS said in testimony to the Mass. legislature.

And yet, McDonald’s is burdening the health care system more than marijuana ever could. The health risks associated with the drug are not life-threatening, but relatively small—especially compared to those associated with alcohol, cigarettes and fast food.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse cites increased heart rate a marijuana buzz might bring on as a health risk, but coffee-drinkers do not appear concerned about the same effect caffeine has on their hearts. Smoking marijuana (as opposed to other methods of ingestion) can irritate the lungs, but the myth that marijuana use causes cancer has been dispelled by scientists.

With very little evidence of marijuana’s potential to cause physical detriment, fear-mongering around the harms of marijuana use has favored psychological impairment, and the "gateway drug" theory in particular. As HIGH TIMES reported earlier this week, a plethora of research has proven that marijuana use does not have a unique impact on the brain that causes users to seek out harder drugs. There is some evidence weed may affect brain development in young users, but even this is not as concerning as it sounds: The evidence is mixed, focuses on heavy users and could show changes in the brain that are reversible with cessation.  

Concern for the Kids

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.) said this week said they oppose marijuana legalization in the interest of what is best "for the kids." Opining that marijuana legalization would impede opportunities for youths, M.A.S.S. said in a statement that decriminalization and the legalization of medical marijuana had already shifted students’ perceptions about the dangers of marijuana.

“[S]tudents have embraced the notion that the use of marijuana is safe and legal, and therefore, they now demonstrate little regard for school policies,” the report says, before delving into fear-mongering that marijuana is “highly addictive, impairs brain development, negatively affects long-term developmental growth, reduces IQ, memory, and diminishes learning functions. “

For a country where 40 percent of residents have tried marijuana, we seem to be doing okay. M.A.S.S. emphasizes that the risks are always greater for children, but does not offer consideration to how marijuana legalization could benefit youth.

Marijuana legalization in Massachusetts would only authorize sale to people 21 years or older, removing the product from the hands of dealers who have no license to risk selling to children. Of course, even under marijuana legalization, young people will find a way to get weed. But a regulated market could change the way kids prohibited from buying pick up. Kids throwing parties don't buy booze from a drug dealer, and that's a good thing. Being in contact with black market dealers puts kids in closer proximity to other illegal drugs. Plus, dealers slinging unregulated product could be hawking pot dirty with mold and pesticides. At least kids buying marijuana diverted from the legal market are getting regulated product.

Business Bros

Massachusetts does not want their workers getting stoned on that legal weed. Nope. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) surveyed state businesses and found that 62 percent of respondents oppose legalization. It’s almost as if they imagine the day marijuana is legal will be the day all their employees go for lunch and never come back, having hit the pot shop and become instantly addicted weed-heads living in a van with a lava lamp-lit bed in the back. Or, the day all of their employees come to work with red eyes, covered in potato chip crumbs and incapable of producing anything but tie-dyed clothing and 12-minute musical numbers that require the entire staff play tambourine.

Business-owners already have stoners on their payroll, and marijuana legalization is not going to turn them into a dysfunctional, lazy stereotype. Just ask the “choom gang” member and president of the United States, Barack Obama. Or Richard Branson. I would say ask Steve Jobs, who these haters probably have to thank for the technology they use to conduct business daily, but he’s dead. He did, however, make the iPhone. And he smoked weed and took LSD, so.

In a country where people walk around strapped with rifles, drink alcohol at work functions and are increasingly dying from opioid-related overdoses, marijuana is the least of our concerns. Legalization accepts the reality of use, taxes the product,and creates a conversation in which standards of safety can mitigate the potential harms that the drug prohibitionists are worried about. 

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